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Experiencing India

Kerala FAM April 2018

India is a country I have always wanted to visit, so when I was offered a Familiarisation trip with Travelpack I jumped at the opportunity.

I travelled with 7 others for an extensive tour of the Kerala region of India. We had 7 full days to see as much of this area as possible.

We travelled from London Heathrow with Etihad on our flight which routes via Abu Dhabi…

We were fortunate to travel business class on the first sector. Once again my opinion to all is – if you can afford Business class then this really is a must. The space, the indulgence and the relaxation inside this experience is worth every penny.

Our first flight was 6hrs 35mins travelling Abu Dhabi. This time passed quickly in the comfort of Business Class. We then had 2 hours on the ground at Abu Dhabi. It was easy to transfer from our arrival gate to the next departure lounge.
We then had a 3 hr flight on to Calicut this time travelling in Economy. I have to say I was equally impressed with this class of Travel. Good seat pitch and very comfortable.

When we arrived at Calicut and departed the airport, the heat really hits you. We arrive at 8am and the heat is already 27 degrees! So does the different way of life. The airport is busy with local people and already I can see that we are in for a treat of culture, colours and smiles. But I can also see straight away I need to forget health and safety, and just engage in the local way of life and of course living! Forget modern and be prepared to step back in time for a truly unique journey!

Travelling to our first hotel I found the Palm trees taller than I imagined. Land with cattle grazing freely both on the roads and roadside. The Roads are overwhelmingly chaotic and busy. There seems to be no rules! The experience of driving in India is certainly not for the faint hearted. I found myself thinking, as the ground is a dusty brown almost everywhere you go, you would expect to see dirty feet (many wear no shoes at all) but you are drawn to faces as there are plenty of smiles which allowed me to forget about the colour of their feet!

Other things I observed during our journey – trees with Coconuts, mangos and bananas.

I also noticed there were more women than men in the country! All wearing the beautiful and colourful saris, bringing towns and villages to life. As you drive through the towns you are startled by how busy and dirty they are but you are then overcome by colour of everything and enjoy seeing all going about their daily life. You almost feel like it’s just ants buzzing around in a mist of heat as they all go about their daily life.

Our first hotel – Wayanad wild. http://www.cghearth.com/wayanad-wild
A completely remote hotel that is designed for nature lovers and clients whom wish to simply get away from it all. The hotel is reached by an unmade road which is quite a ride! (And that is putting it politely!) Not for the faint hearted in any way! When at the hotel you will find very limited WiFi. No alcohol, no TVs or radios. Just nature at its best. You can partake in nature walks and talks and travel into the heart of Wayanad to see local villages and the people going about their day to day life. You can take a jeep safaris into the heart of the forest for the opportunity to see more wildlife.

The hotel rooms are carefully thought out to fit in with nature and are beautifully designed. They are large and very spacious. Fitted with lovely showers and all have a large balcony where you can simply relax in the natural surroundings. All the complimentary amenities are either made from recycled goods or are made to be recycled. I liked this concept a lot, and was apparent in all the hotels we stayed in. All our hotels are part of the cgh earth experience hotels.

For dinner each night there is a homemade soup, followed by an assortment of curries rice and salad, all buffet style. This is great as you feel tempted to try more choices by having a little of each! Then for the sweets again a good choice and all very delicious.

Day two.

Today we were up early to meet our tour guide whom I soon nicknamed to Baloo from the Jungle Book. What a lovely man. A local man whom knew everything and it seems everyone. He was so interesting and indeed knowledgeable. He took us on a nature walk. He showed us how to climb trees’ (literally), and I learnt that the reason why the trees are all so close together is so you don’t have to keep going up and down the trunks of the tree but simply swing from tree to tree, He also showed us how plants became toys and fun. One plant that when you snap the stalk in half then place near the mouth and blow gently – it becomes as good as any bubbles blown out that I have ever seen. A fern that if you stamp on a dark surface you are left with a tattoo (imprint) of the plant. One plant the leaf could be used as sand paper. A plant that makes a clapping sound; one that when you touch the leaves it completely closes up; and then there was a plant called Jetropha that has a small berry and if you place in your closed lips with your head back again you can play a game by blowing the bulb in the air. So much fun and all for free! Learning how the local villagers live from the plants and the land was so interesting and again gave us more of an insight into the local way of life. We visited a kindergarten during our travels and found the room bare with one toy – but full of happy children playing with each other was really lovely. We enjoyed buying the children some sweets. The children were happy learning from pictures. Later we went on a walk deep into the heart of a tribal local village. The homes we saw were primitive and have no modern day facilities. Clearly poor but very obviously happy and content with their way of life.
We saw tea plantations, trees growing coffee, pepper plants that produce green/Black/white, turmeric, mango, banana and rose apple and many more.
We were then taken to a Bamboo factory. Bamboo is found abundantly in Wayanad and locals are encouraged to make a whole new range of products based on methods passed down for centuries. There was an abundance of things made from bamboo – even a bicycle! We witnessed window blinds being made and much more.
Whilst staying at the hotel we met an English couple who had previously travelled through that north of India and were anxious they would be disappointed but they have loved it

Day three
We leave the hotel bright an early for a difficult journey down the mountain and it’s hair pin bends! (I was not sorry to see the back of that road!) It is mind boggling how and why it is ok to overtake in such difficult driving conditions. It is scarier than any fun fair roller coaster ride I have ever been on. Surprisingly, though, you do get to start trusting your driver and accept this is their way!
We are heading to the train station as we journey to Cochin in the South of the island.

Now travelling by train across India is indeed an experience all of its own. We were fortunate enough to have tickets in first class, thank goodness is all I can say. The carriages are busy, they are not dirty but dreary and very old! We have seats and are very comfortable. Lifting luggage onto the trains is the hardest part as the steps to gain access to the carriage are very steep. Travelling with the locals is fun and the views of the countryside are great as we travel for 4 hours to our next destination – Cochin.

We take a hotel inspection of The Xandari Harbour Hotel Kochin – just 16 rooms. Located right on the harbour and stunning views. Beautiful rooms and many are harbour view. The hotel was luxurious and very pleasant – I would certainly enjoy a stay here – http://www.xandari.com/harbour. In the evening we were hosted to a super dinner that really was quite special at the Hotel Brunton Boatyard.
Saturday Kochin Kerala. We are taken on a really comprehensive and interesting half day tour of the area. We saw the hotel where the recent TV show The Real Marigold was filmed – Le Colonial. We walked round the lovely quaint streets and are told of the history that beholds many streets and told a little re the Dutch and Jewish history. The beach is vast and I am pleased to say is part of a huge campaign to clean it up for tourists! There is currently a super scheme in place in which the hotel owners and managers all come together on a Saturday morning to clean up the area. This is working well… and a great scheme that everyone is proud to be part of ….We then did a further hotel inspection – Old Harbour House was Colonial – http://www.oldharbourhotel.com/ – I loved this hotel. The decoration throughout was truly colonial and each and every room was beautifully furnished and carefully designed.

Kochin was a mixture of quaint streets with arty shops. Market sellers with cheap locally made gifts. Less hectic and a really lovely town. Don’t be surprised to see goats in the children’s park, dogs on the beach and even cows on the beach. There was an array of guest houses and small boutique hotels, and nice not to see any high rise buildings taking over this lovely seaside town. I would recommend 2 to 3 nights stay here but try and get at least 2 full days allowing you to explore.
I am disappointed that we only had one night here as it really was super – we stayed at the Hotel Brunton Boatyard http://www.cghearth.com/brunton-boatyard. I enjoyed this hotel very much – and certainly felt it deserved its five star rating. The interiors reflect an eclectic but tasteful blend of English, Portuguese and Dutch influences as seen in its high ceilings, hanging fans and a plethora of artefacts and curios from a great mercantile age known for its pomp and glamour.

After leaving Kochin we had a 4 hour journey to Periyar ( thekkady) We did the journey in the dark and it was long and tiring. Dry windy roads! Would recommend to you all to try and always do any travelling during the day!

We arrive at our hotel – visit Spice Village hotel. Well what a beautiful hotel. All rooms are in large bungalows set carefully around the village. Large rooms and have a nice little terrace to sit out on
The hotel has some lovely facilities. There are paper making courses. Nature walks around the village. Chef demonstrations, yoga daily, local dancing and so much more. The service here was super and the restaurants was superb.

On our next day we visit the Periyar Tiger Reserve. This has to be my favourite part of the trip so far. The anticipation of seeing elephants in the wild was overwhelming. We caught the bus from just outside the hotel and sat with the locals which was fun, we wanted pictures of them and they wanted photos of us!

The beauty that was then before us was breath-taking. The colours from the trees and the water were stunning… we boarded an old fashioned boat and sat patiently on the upper deck and simply meandered along the river and were all on look-out for wildlife. During our hour cruise we saw giant Indian Bison, a heard of wild deer, wild fox, water hogs and one elephant. You did need binoculars to see the animals but it was a wonderful trip that I will always remember. Very serene and very beautiful.

In the afternoon – again on foot we head for a Spice tour where we walked for about 3km and had a guide explain the plants all growing wild and the spices they produced. So many healing and natural ways to combat many ailments! We saw every spice imaginable. Cardamom, tamarind, all spice, pepper, curry leaf, nutmeg, and ginger to name but a few.

Back to the hotel to learn more about the spices in cooking and a lovely cooking demonstration by the chef. After this we were able to leave our email addresses and the hotel is going to send us some Indian recipes. 

The hotel organically grows most of its vegetables, fruit and of course spices. I am in awe of the recycling and good use of old newspaper, here in the UK we could learn a lot from the careful considerations re traditions and recycling.

Our evening then started with some local Indian dance and a lovely dinner. It was one of the group’s birthdays and the hotel really went to town, providing a  cake and all the staff came out with candles and a lovely large hand-made paper poster with handwritten notes from all the staff  and a beautiful bouquet of fresh local flowers. Truly lovely and so thoughtful

We then headed south of Kerala to the cost and the beach area
Mararikulam.

Another 4 hour long journey. Windy roads stunning views and scary driving once again…

We have a hotel visit to the Coconut Lagoon Hotel. http://www.cghearth.com/coconut-lagoon. We arrived on our mini bus down a strange and rather dreary looking side road and all felt we had taken a wrong turn, but we were to board a little passenger boat which took us the 15 min journey to the hotel. During this time we pass many of the beautiful and unique House Boats that Kerala has to offer. We saw boats that slept just two people to around 12. This appears to be a fantastic way to enjoy the local villages as you gently cruise along the backwaters of Kerala

The Coconut Lagoon was a nice hotel quite unique in that all the hotel rooms are adapted from former houses from the village. The hotel can only be reached by boat. Very very pleasant grounds and totally fitting for any clients who like nature. There is a bird sanctuary with many different species for you to see. The hotel rooms were designed in all dark wood and with outdoor bathroom facilities except for the villa pools that are right by the lagoon and were beautiful.
A selection of restaurants and lovely pool, Half-board recommended here due to the fact that the hotel is only reached by boat. They do offer a free water taxi service, but eating at this lovely hotel would certainly be easier than eating out locally.

Our final stop is the beach…
We stay in another fabulous hotel- Marari Beach – http://www.cghearth.com/marari-beach
Once again a really lovely hotel. Lovely thatched cottages spread over many acres of land – all well thought of and leading to the beach. The rooms were large and very well equipped and all had very spacious outside (but private) outdoor bathrooms Nature once again is a highlight of the experience a this hotel – The hotel has catalogued 97 species of butterflies, 350 species of endemic plants, 3 varieties of turtles, 10 types of frogs and around 80 species of birds that you will encounter depending on the season.
During our week long trip we drove for many hours, time in which we could see the local towns and villages. The cows and goats roaming along the roadsides auto rickshaws as they seem to scuttle everywhere with locals and tourists alike. The scenery always offering different things and I can’t believe I am writing this but you almost get used to the erratic and chaotic driving…

From my trip I would personally highly recommend you visit this wonderful part of the world. For me the ideal itinerary would be 2 or 3 nights in Cochin, the daytime drive to Periyar, 2/3 nights here and during this time take at least one full day to do as many of the fab nature trips on offer. The boat journey is a must but there are so many more trips you can add to this including walking tours with a naturist, bamboo rafting, border hiking, jungle scout, tiger trail or green & nature walk.

 

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